Football has changed a lot over the years. Like, a whole lot. It wasn’t long ago—think early 2000s— that in order to be a good NFL team, you likely had a featured running back that you gave the ball to 25+ times per game. You likely had a big, bruising, inline tight end (looking at you, Dan Campbell) on your roster, who was almost always more of a blocker than a pass catcher. It was close to the “four yards and a cloud of dust” brand of football that our parents watched for years.
Now, with defenses utilizing lighter boxes and coaches opting for speed and skill over size, things have changed in a hurry. Having one functional tight end isn’t going to cut it anymore. Especially if you’re a team like the Detroit Lions, who use a lot of personnel packages that feature multiple tight ends on the field at once.
Tight ends these days need to be able to do it all. They need to be able to block in the run game, protect the passer when asked, split out wide or in the slot as a receiver, and everything in between. There is a reason there is such a learning curve associated with young tight ends entering the NFL.
Take it from current Lions’ tight end T.J. Hockenson, who has had his share of bumps and bruises during his time as a professional. And when he was lost to a hand injury late in 2021, it left the Lions shorthanded on offense.
General manager Brad Holmes surely took note of this, using pick 177 on tight end James Mitchell out of Virginia Tech to add depth to the room.
Let’s take a look at some of Mitchell’s highlights from his time in Blacksburg by starting off with a video the Lions put together.
New #Lions TE James Mitchell is mostly a receiving TE who can also play as a move piece in the slot and out wide.— Brett Whitefield (@BGWhitefield) April 30, 2022
Here (lined up slot-left), is a good example of how he was used. pic.twitter.com/8HRBrdNV3N
Watch James Mitchell (TE, Virginia Tech #82) stay with this block.— EJ Snyder (@thedraftsmanFB) March 27, 2022
It helps a lot that Khalil Herbert is so patient as a runner, but this teach tape for why you sustain blocks as long as you can. Pays off in the form of a TD here. pic.twitter.com/NIINcwoAZ1
Also, his teammate at #VirginiaTech TE#82 James Mitchell made a super athletic play in the same game.— Eric Galko (@EricGalko) June 9, 2021
Catches with great ball tracking as a receiver, and runs after catch like a bigger running back. Really impressive. #ShrineBowl pic.twitter.com/yzYXTlTIVM
VT's first two drives of the second half ended with a punt and a pick, but their defense forced a pair of three-and-outs and Willis hooked up with tight end James Mitchell for an 11-yard TD. They're trailing the Eagles, 28-21, going into the fourth. pic.twitter.com/WbnNxIJmnU— Julian Benbow (@julianbenbow) August 31, 2019